Belonging to the Brassicaceae family, white mustard (botanical name Sinapis alba L.) is an annually growing plant. This species is mainly grown for its edible seeds. In addition, the plant itself is also used in the form of a green manure as well as a fodder. It is believed that white mustard is native to the Mediterranean region, but is now extensively cultivated throughout the world.
The stems of white mustard, also known as Brassica alba, are sparsely covered with hairs and usually grow up to a height of two to five feet. The pale green leaves of this plant are smooth, haphazardly dentate (having toothed margins), lyrately pinnate, rugged and have an uneven surface. The lobes at the base are deeper and oblong-shaped, while those at the terminal are comparatively large. The flowers of this species have a light yellow hue, oval shaped petals and are quite large. While the flowers have straight claws, the sepals are green, identical at their base, linear and spreading.
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The pods or siliques that enclose the seeds are hispid (coarse with stiff bristles), spreading and torose (cylindrical with knobs at intervals). They are also short compared to the compressed, nerved, sword shaped (ensiform) beak and contain roughly four seeds each. White mustard seeds are spherical, quite large and light colored.
White mustard seeds possess antifungal, antibacterial, emetic, diuretic, digestive, expectorant, stimulant (tonic), appetizing, carminative and rubefacient (making the skin become red) attributes. As the seeds release hydrogen sulphide when they decompose following reaction with water (hydrolytic reaction), they have a cathartic effect. Herbalists in China, employ the white mustard leaves to treat coughs accompanied by copious phlegm, pleurisy as well as tuberculosis. In the West, people seldom use white mustard seeds internally in the form of a medicine. When used externally, the seeds of this plant are used to prepare a mustard plaster by adding water to the ground seeds, poultices or even added to one's bath water. Mustard seeds are also used for treating arthritic joints, skin eruptions, respiratory infections and chilblains. When added with water in a proportion of 1:3, white mustard seeds have the aptitude to inhibit fungal growth. It is important that you exercise caution while using this natural remedy, as the white mustard seeds enclose substances that may be very irritating for the skin as well as the mucous membranes. The green leaves of white mustard possess carminative (a medicine that helps to expel gas formed in the stomach) properties.
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White mustard seeds are widely employed as plasters, poultices and other substance while treating bronchitis, pleurisy, and pneumonia as well as also in the form of a counter-irritant for alleviating deep-entrenched pains. When used in its powdered form, these seeds are safe for use as an emetic and work almost immediately.
White mustard is cultivated for its edible seeds, used in the form of a flavouring agent as well as a green manure to make the soil it grows on more fertile. It is also used in the form of a salad plant and food for animals. The seeds of white mustard yield about 20 per cent or 35 per cent of golden-yellowish oil that has a gentle flavour and, besides using it internally, this oil is also used in the form of a fuel for lamps and a lubricant. In addition, the oil obtained from white mustard seeds is also an offshoot of the condiment industry, especially in countries where these seeds are partly emptied prior to milling. In Sweden, people also use white mustard oil to make mayonnaise.
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The seedlings of white mustard are used in the form of a salad plant, and also consumed uncooked in sandwiches and salads. The leaves of this plant are used in the form of potherbs. In the United States, mustard is the most sought after spice next to pepper. Normally, commercial mustard is mixed with white mustard for spiciness or strong flavour; combined with black mustard for aroma. Pounded mustard is yellow and its color is attributed to turmeric, which is added to this spice. Freshly prepared mustard paste, made by adding water to the dried, pounded seeds decomposes quickly. In order to avoid such decomposition, you may add vinegar to the mustard powder paste. Whole white mustard seeds are used for making pickles and they may also be boiled together with some vegetables like cabbage and sauerkraut.
White mustard plants are also cultivated in the form of a cover crop, as they grow very quickly. The mustard oil cakes are used to feed sheep with a view to make them fatter.
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Folk medicine: The white mustard seeds as well as the oil extracted from them are used internally as well as externally in folk medicine for treating cancers, abnormal growths in the stomach, abdomen, spleen, uterus, and throat or wrist indurations. Therapeutically, white mustard seeds are believed to possess diuretic, diaphoretic, expectorant, emetic, stimulant and irritant properties. In addition, these seeds are also used in poultices to ease severe local pains, bronchitis, pneumonia as well as other ailments related to the respiratory tract. White mustard seeds enclose a volatile oil that is potently irritant, vesicant (a medicine that causes formation of blisters) and rubefacient (a medicine that causes the skin to become reddened). This oil is employed to cure colic and rheumatic pains.
Way back, in 1699, English writer and gardener John Evelyn wrote in Acetaria that the effects of white mustard seedlings have an unparalleled effect in quickening as well as reviving the spirits, reinforcing the memory; getting rid of heaviness and they have also been approved for use as an anti-scorbutic. These seeds are also used in the form of a counter-irritant. For this purpose, white mustard seeds are pounded and blended with vinegar for external treatment of rheumatism. In fact, some people also use this formula internally for curing digestive problems. Some herbal practitioners also recommend gargling with a tea prepared with white mustard seeds for treating sore throats. It is also said that white mustard seed tea is also helpful for providing relief from rheumatism as well as bronchitis. In addition, it is believed that the white mustard plant also possesses emollient (relaxing), sedative and also narcotic properties.
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White mustard seeds enclose a maximum of about 35 per cent partially drying oil, which is used as a fuel for lighting, lubricant as well as other purposes. Apart from these utilities, you may also grow white mustard with the purpose of using the plants in the form of a green manure. This is a rapidly growing species that turns into a large volume only in some weeks' from the time its seeds are sown. Nevertheless, as the roots of this plant are shallow, they do not grow well during the arid seasons. In addition, white mustard plants are also vulnerable to all the diseases endured by the plants in the cabbage family, for instance, club-root. Therefore, it is best to avoid growing this species in case you suspect that such a problem may arise.
Several parts of white mustard are edible, such as the leaves and seeds.
Leaves: The leaves of white mustard may be consumed uncooked or after cooking. They have a hot, spicy taste, particularly if you are eating them raw. Tender white mustard leaves are also used to flavour mixed salads, whereas the older leaves of this species are used in the form of a potherb.
Seeds: Sprouted white mustard seeds are consumed raw. It takes roughly four days for white mustard seeds to sprout and be ready for consumption. These sprouts possess a hot flavour and are frequently used in salads.
You can grind seeds of white mustard into its powdered form and use for flavouring foods - commercially, this is the way white mustard seeds are used most often. Compared to the black mustard that is obtained from the species Brassica nigra, white mustard seeds have a milder flavour. Mustard seeds develop a strong spicy flavour when you add cold water to the pounded seeds. Adding cold water prompts myrosin, the enzyme enclosed by the seeds to act on sinigrin, a glycoside, to yield a sulphur amalgam. This reaction occurs for about 10 to 15 minutes. However, when you add hot water, salt or vinegar to ground white mustard seeds, the release of the enzyme is slowed down resulting in the mustard having a mildly bitter taste.
White mustard or Brassica alba has a preference for a light soil having a proper drainage. The best quality white mustard can be grown on a soil rich in nutrients and also having high amounts of nitrogen. Nevertheless, this species may also be cultivated on an assortment of soils ranging from light to heavy (clay) and even on soils that are comparatively heavy, but sandy and loamy. It is important to note that white mustard plants do not grow well in soils that are very damp. It has been found that white mustard plants thrive most excellently in places receiving average annual rainfall between 35 cm and 179 cm, the yearly temperature varies between 5.6°C and 24.9°C and the pH of the soil ranges between 4.5 and 8.2. White mustard is an annual species that grows quickly when the days are longer and has a preference for temperate climatic conditions having some amount of humidity in the atmosphere. Occasionally, white mustard is cultivated as a garden plant as well as commercially for its seeds, which are edible.
Brassica alba possess the aptitude to tolerate very high temperatures. Nevertheless, the seed setting as well as the quality may be reduced when the days are extremely hot during the plant's blossoming and ripening season. A number of named varieties of white mustard are available. As mentioned earlier, white mustard plants grow very fast, but lots of moisture is necessary for the plants' optimum growth. At times, white mustard plants are cultivated for seed sprouts, generally along with the seeds of cress (Lepidium sativum) with a view to deliver mustard plus cress. In fact, this is a mix of two different varieties of sprouted seeds, especially when you use them after 7 to 10 days later. It is important to note that in this case you need to sow the mustard seeds three days after you have sown the cress seeds. White mustard plants do not have roots that penetrate deep into the soil and when the conditions and sites are suitable, this species also sows by itself freely.
White mustard plants are propagated by their seeds, ideally sown in situ (in their permanent/ natural place) during the period between the start of spring to the end of summer. The seeds take less than a week to germinate. While the plants from the seeds sown earlier are excellent as seed crop, the leaves of those sown later are suitable for consumption. In addition, plants from the later sown seeds are also used in the form of green manure. If you are sowing white mustard seeds with the purpose of using them in mustard and cress, you need to soak the seeds for roughly 12 hours in tepid water and subsequently place them in a damp location. Conventionally, white mustard seeds are sown in a slight stratum of soil in a tray or on a damp blotting paper and subsequently the tray is placed in a warm place free from light for some days with a view to facilitate quick as well as somewhat etiolated growth. Later, you can put the seedlings in a relatively light position for another day or two so that the leaves turn green prior to consumption. It is important that you sow the mustard seeds about three to four days after sowing the cress, as this will help both the varieties to be ready for consumption simultaneously.
Chemical analysis of white mustard seeds has revealed that they enclose an enzyme called myrosin plus a glucoside called sinalbin, which yields heady flavoured, but nearly odourless oil called acrinyl isothiocynate following hydrolysis. When sinalbin mustard oil comes in contact with steam it is slightly volatile and usually results in blister formation on the skin. The seeds also enclose 29.7 per cent crude fat, 27.6 per cent protein, 20.8 per cent N-free extract, 7.2 per cent moisture, 10 per cent fiber plus 4.5 per cent ash.
Analyses of the variety grown in Asia hint that every 100 grams of white mustard seeds encloses 469 calories, 36.3 per cent fat, 28.2 per cent total carbohydrate, 25.4 per cent protein, 5.2 per cent fiber, 5.0 per cent moisture and 4.1 per cent ash. In addition, 100 grams of the Asian variety seeds contain 630 mg b-carotene, 513 mg P, 410 mg Ca, 20.9 mg Fe, 7.3 mg niacin, 0.40 mg thiamine and 0.31 mg riboflavin.
When using in the form of an emetic, swallow one tablespoon of powdered white mustard added to a glass of tepid water. To treat irritation, prepare a remedial formula using one heaped tablespoon of ground white mustard, eight portions of flour and the albumin (white part) of an egg with hot water. Apply this hot to the affected body areas and allow them to stay till the desirable redness has been brought on.
It has been found that the seeds of white mustard enclose a number of substances that cause skin irritation as well as inflame the mucous membranes. Perhaps, the plant becomes toxic after the formation of the seed pods. Many children as well as adolescents have been found to suffer from mustard allergy. When taken internally, white mustard seeds are retained in the intestines.
White mustard seeds are harvested only when they are mature and become hard and black. The fruits of this species do not open or explode easily and hence they can be combined directly. As the weight of the seeds increases significantly just two to three days before they are all set for harvesting either in August or even earlier, it is crucial that you should harvest them only when they have ripened. It is essential to isolate the different seed varieties and kept no less than 360 meters from one another for production of pure seeds. In the US conditions, it generally takes about four months to complete the entire process from seeding to harvesting. In places having temperate climatic conditions, such as in India, white mustard is cultivated as a garden crop during the winter months.
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